Show Me the Money

“Show me the money!”
—Tom Cruise

A few weeks ago, Congress approved and the President signed the NASA Authorization Act for 2010, outlining a human spaceflight policy that will grow a commercial transportation service to low Earth orbit and focus NASA’s human spaceflight community on exploration beyond low Earth orbit.  The proposed top-line budget number for NASA contained in both the President’s original budget submittal in February as well as in the Authorization is $19.0 billion for fiscal year 2011.  However, Congress adjourned for the mid-term elections before passing a budget, instead option for a continuing resolution to fund the government through December 3 at last-years levels.  Authorization is not the same as appropriations, and it is the latter that will ultimately determine what NASA does, and what it won’t do.  Therefore, we’re left with some uncertainty lingering in the air until Congress reconvenes and deals with appropriations.  Will NASA’s top-line budget number remain at or near $19.0 billion for 2011?

To frame this question and discuss potential impacts to NASA, let’s consider the possibility that the House majority switches parties in the coming election.  (As of today, Nate Silver’s “Five Thirty Eight” places the odds at 83% that the Republicans will control the 218 seats needed for majority.)  In its Pledge to America, the Republican party pledges to “…cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels…” which I’ve heard interpreted as “to fiscal year 2008” levels.  What has NASA’s budget history looked like, and what would such a pledge mean to NASA’s top-line budget?

Here is a plot showing NASA’s budget in current dollars without inflation factored in, and in inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars.

And in particular, let’s focus on the budget since 2000:

In inflation-adjusted dollars, NASA’s budget has been relatively flat since 2000, averaging about $17.9 billion.  The fiscal year 2011 proposed budget of $19.0 billion is actually above the recent historic norms.

Suppose for a minute a Republican House makes good on its Pledge to America, and starts the conversation in appropriations for NASA’s budget at 2008 levels.  Where would that place it?  In inflation-adjusted dollars, NASA’s 2008 budget was $17.5 billion.  Therefore, I think it reasonable to expect that the House appropriations committee might start the conversation for NASA’s budget at $1.5 billion lower than the authorization and the President’s budget.  The result likely won’t be that value, since the Senate is projected to remain in Democratic hands (as of today, Silver says 88% chance the Democrats will control at least 50 seats in the Senate).   The art of compromise will lead to an appropriated NASA budget somewhere in between $17.5 and $19.0 billion.  Where?  Your guess is as good as mine.

The key takeaway for me is that the future is no sure thing.  Although NASA’s historical budget has been flat in constant dollars for the last decade, there is no guarantee that trend will continue; if anything, other fiscal pressures may lead to further reductions in non-defense discretionary spending.  As a quick aside, everyone knows that the percentage of the federal budget spent on NASA has been shrinking ever since Apollo, now around 0.5% of the total Federal budget; what most may not know is that NASA’s piece of the non-Defense discretionary spending pie has already been shrinking since 1990:

Pragmatism suggests that I should be aware of all the above pressures as I construct a future procurement strategy for my organization.  The piece contributed by current Government-sponsored human spaceflight programs will continue to come under fiscal pressure; perhaps it is prudent to consider something more than a reliance on existing Government programs for the strategy to come.

Hmm, that is an intriguing thought….


Here are the sources for the budgetary information I used in the charts above:


Show Me the Money

Reminder: GOVgreen

“The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

–Marcel Proust

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about GOVgreen?

The GOVgreen Conference & Expo is coming soon – November 9-10 in Washington, DC. Why should you be interested? It’s an event organized specifically to help government employees, military personnel and contractors learn about and comply with federal sustainability initiatives mandated by President Obama’s Executive Order 13514. In other words, it provides solutions for the government to reduce its carbon footprint, addressing areas such as energy, conservation, transportation and facilities.

GOVgreen is free for federal employees and military personnel, and non-federal/military employees can also get in to the expo hall for free by registering here.

Reminder: GOVgreen

What I’m Reading

“Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.”
–James Russell Lowell

I read… a lot.

I’m constantly reading, and it’s not unusual for me to have several books going at the same time.  I read to learn something new that I didn’t know before; I consider continued learning as critical to being a good leader, a good husband and father, and a good person.  I like to read professional development-related books, from which I seek new ideas that I can incorporate into my leadership view and use in my ongoing work to build and lead high performance teams.  I also read for relaxation at home. Finally, I listen to audiobooks during my daily commute, since we all know radio stinks, right?

Here is the list of books I’ve read or listened to this year.

First, the professional development category:

From each of these, I’ve taken anything from a snippet to wholesale ideas and have incorporated it into my mental leadership and organizational model.  I would do an injustice by contrasting the contributions of any one of these works; each has made a special and unique contribution, without which I’d be all the lesser for it.  I will make a few special mentions: to Kathy Kolbe, with whom I connected initially though social media, and whom I’ve now met in real life; and to Tricia Lustig, Amilya Antonetti, and Mollie Marti, all of whom I’ve conversed with through social media and hope to meet in real life one day.  Thanks to all of you for your unique contributions!

Next, in the entertainment category:

I really enjoy Bill Bryson’s works.  Besides giving me exposure to places I’ve never been (England, Australia, and the northeast US), I find his way of writing very entertaining.  Terry Goodkind’s writings have embedded within them a series of rules called “Wizard’s Rules”, one of each is revealed in every book. (It seems I run into one or more of the rules each day.  But I digress.)  Finally, I read Pullman’s and Rowling’s works since they are listed near the top of the BCC Top 100 works, and I hadn’t read them previously.

At this moment I have three books going.

I became acquainted with Holly Green through social media, and I’m a regular reader of her blog.  I find it interesting that Holly’s writings are so topical for me; it seems that when I’m encountering a situation or question, Holly magically blogs about it within a few days.  It’s as if she has a pipeline into my office, or something.

I’m still working through the rest of the Harry Potter series on audiobooks during my daily commute.  Did I mention that radio stinks?

Finally, I’m reading Andy Chaikin’s book for two reasons.  First, he visited JSC a few weeks ago to teach a three-day class on the history of the US manned space program, which I enjoyed thoroughly.  Second, I’m finding his book provides insights into historical space policy decisions that help provide context to the space policy decisions being made today.

Here is my near-term future reading list:

I met Dr. Jerry Porras a few weeks ago, thanks to Kathy Kolbe, and was very intrigued by his introduction as to why certain companies have succeeded for so long.  Perhaps there is something there to help illustrate why my own organization has persisted for 50 years, yet is facing some of its greatest challenges to its future to date.

Scott Eblin is another person with whom I’ve connected because of social media.  Scott’s blogs are also timely with my current work events, and I’ve incorporated many of his ideas into my leadership model, as well as touching upon them in several of my own blog entries.

Business Model Generation is a recommendation from a fabulous entrepreneur and “brother from another mother” Matt Williams.  He suggested I read it to gain ideas that I likely will find helpful as I continue to develop strategic plans for my organization.

Finally, for entertainment reading, I’ll continue to work my way down the BBC Top 100 list to read those remaining books I haven’t read yet.

What are you reading?

What I’m Reading

Foundations of Mission Operations

We were the ones in the trenches of space and with only the tools of leadership, trust, and teamwork, we contained the risks and made the conquest of space possible.”
–Gene Kranz

At the 2010 Kolbe Personal Growth Seminar in Tempe, AZ, I was asked to give a brief presentation to the audience of 180-plus Kolbe Certified Consultants in attendance.  One of the ties between Kolbe and NASA is the use of a clip from the movie “Apollo 13” as a learning exercise.  Since all of the consultants are familiar with the clip, with NASA, and with Mission Control, I decided to use the clip as the basis to share an insider’s perspective on Mission Operations.

On the previous day, Dr. Jerry Porras, author of the best selling leadership book, “Built to Last”, gave an overview of the fundamental basis for what underlies companies and organizations that are built to last: Purpose, Core Values, and Vision.  I seized upon the ideas of core values and the “Apollo 13” clip, and chose those as the basis of providing a behind-the-scenes context to Mission Operations for the Kolbe consultants.  I decided to share the Foundations of Mission Operations.

The Foundations of Mission Operations, in its simplest description, is a set of core values and guiding principles that governs everything we do in Mission Operations, whether it is operations in Mission Control, astronaut and flight controller training, or mission planning, design and analysis work.

Foundations of Mission Operations

1. To instill within ourselves these qualities essential to professional excellence

Discipline…Being able to follow as well as to lead, knowing that we must master ourselves before we can master our task.

Competence…There being no substitute for total preparation and complete dedication, for space will not tolerate the careless or indifferent.

Confidence…Believing in ourselves as well as others, knowing that we must master fear and hesitation before we can succeed.

Responsibility…Realizing that it cannot be shifted to others, for it belongs to each of us; we must answer for what we do, or fail to do.

Toughness…Taking a stand when we must; to try again, and again, even if it means following a more difficult path.

Teamwork…Respecting and utilizing the abilities of others, realizing that we work toward a common goal, for success depends upon the efforts of all.

Vigilance… Always attentive to the dangers of spaceflight; Never accepting success as a substitute for rigor in everything we do.

2. To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences.

3. To recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in the trying we do not give it our best effort.

The Foundations were mostly born from a series of challenges and crises that the team faced in the early days – during Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  As Gene Kranz has told it, the first teams were adapting from the high-performance aircraft flight test world the techniques used there as the basis for space flight control, refining and learning as they went.  Quickly, “discipline”, “confidence”, “responsibility”, and “teamwork” became obvious as essential core values of the flight control team in Mercury and Gemini.  After the Apollo 1 pad fire in 1967, Gene wrote a memo to the team that emphasized “competence” and “toughness” as being the means to build upon the lessons learned and to move forward from that tragic event.  (Gene even had each member of the flight control team write “tough and competent” on their office blackboards that was not to be erased until the first moon landing mission was conducted successfully.)  The Foundations – discipline, competence, confidence, responsibility, toughness, and teamwork – served Mission Operations extremely well.

Then the Columbia accident happened in 2003.

In the aftermath of Columbia, we learned that we had become over-confident and complacent in our track record of success.  From that, we embraced the core value “vigilance”.

The beauty of the Foundations of Mission Operations is that they weren’t dreamed up by a focus team on a management retreat, later to be forced down the throats of the work force. They were revealed and became evident and obvious as a part of the way everyday business of human spaceflight is conducted, and has been conducted, for 50 years.  The Foundations speak to a higher calling and sense of duty we have to accomplish the mission and to derive value from our activities in space.  They are as much about us as individuals as they are the organization.

Imagine the possibilities if every organization had a set of core values and guiding principles as good as these.  Along with a sense of purpose and vision, these organizations would be unstoppable.  They, like Mission Operations, would be built to last.

Foundations of Mission Operations